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Education is a fundamental human right in modern times, but it hasn’t always been so. Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in part states that, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” The UDHR was introduced by United Nations delegates in 1948. 

Prior to that time, education had been viewed through a number of different lenses. Factors such as illiteracy and poverty kept many children of the past out of classrooms, with many pursuing apprenticeships rather than formal education. Illiteracy was also a widespread social problem within colonial America: Between 1650 and 1670, about 60% of white men in New England could read, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The number of literate women and children was significantly lower during that time, but literacy rates among all white Americans rose steadily throughout the 18th century. In England, children from poor families often received basic learning sessions at Sunday school, increasing literacy rates throughout the country.


The education of wealthy children in the 1700s was another matter altogether. Young ladies in wealthy families were typically left out of formal education because academics were considered an unbecoming trait among females of marriageable age. At the very least, wealthy young women were taught to read and write, and sometimes attended charm schools. The practice of educating male children, however, was viewed as an avenue towards a profitable career.

Educators, Gender, and Race

In colonial America, even the Founding Fathers helped perpetuate the notion that females had little need formal schooling. For instance, in his 1787 lecture, “Thoughts Upon Female Education,” civic leader Benjamin Rush declared that women should be educated if only to pass on knowledge to their sons.


As the education of young women wasn’t considered a priority in the 18th century, it makes sense that the majority of educators during that time were male. The same year that Rush gave his lecture on female education, the Young Ladies Academy opened in Philadelphia. It is considered America’s first all-female learning institution, yet every teacher at the Academy was male.


Today, the teaching landscape has changed considerably in regards to gender. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, during the 2015-16 school year, about 77% of public school teachers were female. More men teach at the secondary level than elementary. Interestingly, the biggest disparity among American teaching professionals involves race: In 2015-16, 80% of public elementary and secondary school teachers were white, non-Hispanic.


But racial disparity in the American education system is unfortunately nothing new. In the deep South of the 18th century, slavery was still commonplace, and the act of educating slaves was controversial in many states. In 1740, lawmakers in South Carolina enacted what has become known as “The Negro Act.” The act prohibited slaves from being taught to read and write, earn their own money, or peaceably assemble. The Negro Act remained a cornerstone of South Carolina's legal policies until it was repealed in 1865.

Higher Education in the Modern Workplace

In modern times, no matter their race, educators must have formal training, a requirement that wasn’t applicable in the 1700s. The biggest reason for the lack of formal education among 18th-century educators is that universities were sparse, and none offered teaching degrees or certificates. The first state-sponsored Normal School, tasked with providing the systematic training of teachers, was established in Massachusetts in 1839.


From then on, the training of educators was considered compulsory, but it’s only in recent years that post-baccalaureate degrees have become commonplace among prospective teachers. And the phenomenon is growing: While 47% of American educators held a post-baccalaureate degree in 2000, that number climbed to 57% as of 2016. And today, teachers who want to advance their careers can even pursue a Doctor of Education or Ed.D.


An Ed.D is among the highest levels of education that one can pursue, alongside a Ph.D. Educators who wish to delve into the administration side of teaching, in roles that include dean, principal, or university president, should consider the benefits of an Ed.D. According to Bradley University, an Ed.D program may also emphasize concepts such as “ethical decisions, political realities, and challenging logistics of educational administration.”


But an advanced degree may not be an appropriate choice for every educator. Even as the threshold of academia continues to rise, teachers should still consider the merits and pitfalls of pursuing a post-baccalaureate. The most notable factor when considering the pursuit of a Master’s degree involves cost — while those holding an advanced degree typically bring in a heftier salary, there’s also the possible financial and mental toll to consider.

The Progression of Teaching Methods: Then and Now

Mental health is a big part of the picture when it comes to education in our complex world. Exhaustion, stress, and anxiety are commonplace in modern classrooms, among teachers and students alike. In fact, a full 61% of educators report that their job is “always” or “often” stressful, according to We Are Teachers.


Fortunately, today’s teachers suffering from burnout won’t be labeled as hysterical, a common diagnosis among anxious 18th-century women. Instead, stressed-out educators are encouraged to take days off, or practice mindfulness and/or meditation at the start of the teaching day. Building positive relationships with students may also serve as an effective stress-reduction tool.


But the benefits of a strong teacher-student relationship are multifaceted and can also positively impact student mental health as well. Students who cultivate a strong rapport with a teacher are more likely to succeed academically and may have stronger emotional development than their classmates.


Our modern educational landscape differs considerably from the 18th century’s learning environments. Today, students of all income levels, genders, and races are able to receive the same education. Religion in the classroom is no longer compulsory, and educators have more opportunities than ever to earn a higher salary or perform administrative duties.